Friday, December 15, 2006

We ARE Stardust

"It's only a fraction of a thimble's worth of dust, but scientists around the world are buzzing about it altering our view of how the solar system formed and perhaps, depending on what else gets teased out of these tiny specks, of how life arose on Earth.

"For the first time, we have a sample of the material that was around when the solar system formed more than 4 billion years ago," said Don Brownlee, a University of Washington astronomer and lead scientist for NASA's $212 million Stardust mission.

"Earlier this year, the Stardust space capsule returned to Earth (the Utah desert, to be precise) after traveling 2.9 billion miles over seven years. Two years ago, the spacecraft encountered a comet known as Wild 2 and collected dust by flying through its "coma" -- the cloud of ice, gas and dust at the front of the comet.

and later in article:
"Comets such as Wild 2, which only recently got diverted closer to Earth by passing close to Jupiter's gravitational field, are thought to be some of the oldest, most pristine collections of the solar system's primordial building blocks.

"They are windows into space and time," Brownlee said. Everything on Earth, including every living creature, was built from this material, he noted. As the Joni Mitchell song said: "We are stardust."

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